Today marks the one year anniversary of my first tweet on Twitter. I’d sing the “Happy Birthday” song, but the royalties on that little gem would cost me a fortune. Instead, I’m going to spend some time talking about why I think Twitter is so very useful for IT people.
I have always spent a lot of time reading blogs. Great content in concise, easy-to-digest format. Especially when I started studying for my CCIE lab. However, last year I noticed that some of my CCIE blogs weren’t being updated anymore, specifically CCIE Candidate and CCIE Pursuit. I figured that CCIE Candidate wasn’t being updated quite as regularly anymore due to Ethan getting his number, so I decided to do a little digging. Turns out Ethan had a new, non-CCIE focused blog at PacketAttack, but also had an account on Twitter (@ecbanks). Now, I had my misgivings about Twitter. It was a microblogging site dedicated to people telling me what the had for lunch or when they were taking a constitutional. All the previous experiences I had seen on Twitter led me to believe that it wasn’t exactly a fun place to be.
However, after reading through Ethan’s tweets, I realized that there was a lot of good information and discussion that was being posted there. I searched around and found a couple of other good tweet streams, including one from a real-life friend that I didn’t get to see much, Brad Stone (@bestone). After mulling the decision back and forth for a day or two, I decided to take the plunge. I tried several names before I finally came up with one that I thought personified both my desire for technical discussion and my outlook on things, @networkingnerd. Once I signed up for Twitter, I started following a few people that I had found, like Ethan, Brad, and Narbik Kocharians (@narbikk). I knew that the only way I could get more involved with what was going on was to start talking and see if anyone was listening. At first, it felt like the guys in the park standing on a soapbox with a bullhorn, shouting for all the world to hear but no one really listening. Once I figured out how to address someone with a tweet to get their attention, the followers started taking off a little more. Part of the key for me was staying focused on networking and tech and injecting a little snarkiness and humor along the way (something that would pay off later when I started blogging).
Another part of the reason I got involved with Twitter was to feel like a larger part of the IT community. Last year, my annual sojurn to Cisco Live was coming up fast, and Cisco had been releasing a lot of good information and tips for Cisco Live attendees on Twitter. Now, when I go to Cisco Live, I have a group of 5-6 people that I usually hang out with and do things like take the Cisco Challenge in the World of Solutions or heckle the bands at the Customer Appreciation Event. However, thanks to Twitter this year I’ve got 50-60 people that I’m going to be hanging out with and meeting for the first time in real life. Twitter also helped me get more information about events like Tech Field Day, which I had no idea about. Later, Twitter helped me get my first invite to Tech Field Day, both through my involvement in the community and Twitter’s gateway effect that drove me to start blogging out my longer thoughts (like this one).
Twitter isn’t for everyone. Some people have a hard time keeping up with the firehose of information that you get blasted with. Others have a really hard time condensing thoughts down to less that 140 characters. Still others never really find the right group to get involved in and write Twitter of as stupid or childish. My counter to thinking such as that is “You get what you put into it.” I search out new and fun people to follow all the time. I’m not afraid to unfollow someone if their tweets become pointless and overly distracting. Twitter, for me, is about discussion. Helping answer questions, learning about industry news before my bosses, even railing against hated protocols. All of these things have increased the payoff I have received from Twitter in the last year.
At the same time, I make sure to respect the wishes of those that follow me. I tend to relegate my non-IT related posts to something like Facebook. I may post personal things on Twitter from time to time, but I tend to think of them more as little details about my life that help fill in the dark spots about me. I don’t post about sports, even though my Facebook wall in the fall is a virtual commentary on college football every week. I don’t let applications tweet things for me if I can help it. I don’t link my 4square account or let an unfollower app shout things no one else is interested in. I have total control over my Twitter account to be sure that those that take time out of their schedules to listen to what I have to say will hear my words and not those of some robot. Those that let their Twitter streams become a wasteland of contest entries and “I just unfollowed X people that didn’t follow me back” updates from applications usually fall by the wayside sooner or later.
People I know in real life make fun of me when I tell them I’m on Twitter. They crack jokes about updates from the water closet or useless junk spamming my Twitter feed. However, when the joking stops and they ask me what’s so compelling about it, I tell them “On Twitter, I learn things I actually WANT to know.” My Facebook feed is a bunch of game updates and garbage about stuff I really don’t care to know most of the time. Until my Twitter followers started friending me on Facebook, no one on Facebook knew about the depths of my nerdiness. On Twitter, I feel free to talk about things like BGP or NAT without fear that I’m going to be deluged with comments from people who are hopelessly lost or would rather talk about the Farmville animals. On Twitter, I’m free to indulge myself. And the community that I’ve become a part of helps me develop and become a better person. Without Twitter, I would never have been able to find so many people across the world that share my interests. I never would have been pushed to increase the depth of my knowledge. Dare I say it, I probably wouldn’t have been driven to get my CCIE nearly as much as I was thanks to the help of my Twitter friends. In short, I’m glad I’ve had my first year on Twitter be as successful as it has been. Here’s to many more.